'The future is free and fair'

2008-10-03 08:39
Marianne Thamm

Like natural childbirth or climbing a particularly steep incline to reach a vantage point that offers a spectacular view, human beings tend to forget the pain that came before the gain.

Today, most reasonable people accept that women enjoy and are entitled to the same rights as men. Terms such as "patriarchy", "chairwoman" and "gender equity", so peripheral to public discourse only ten years ago, are commonplace.

We also think nothing really of the long and illustrious list of women leaders who feature in the South African political landscape. They're here, they're doing their jobs and that's that. This role call includes Patricia de Lille, Helen Zille, Lynne Brown, Zanele KwaMagaza-Msibi, Nosiviwe Madlala-Routledge and many, many others.

You'd be hard pressed to find anyone who would insist that these women occupy these positions through some sort of special favour.

Then there are lesser-known names - Tinyiko Nwamitwa-Shilubana, Nomawele Njongo or Gabie Hassam, for example, - ordinary women who effected seismic shifts in our society.

Nwambita-Shibulana claimed the chieftainship of the vaTsonga/ma Changa people after a male cousin had tried to prevent her from doing so. Njongo did not allow the powerful former ANC chief whip, Mbulelo Goniwe, to get away with trying to sexually harass her by ordering her to "behave like a good Xhosa girl" and provide him with sexual favours. And Hassan, a Muslim woman, fought and won the right of wives in polygamous marriages to be treaded equally especially where the husband dies intestate.

These are only a fraction of the myriad of small and larger incremental steps that have been taken in the past ten years in a variety of spheres and that have contributed to the creation of the more equitable social milieu we live in today.

Today young South African women, constitutionally unburdened by the oppressive and restrictive political, cultural and religious constraints of the past, should find no obstacle in their paths, no limit to their potential.

Of course the best thing about the liberation of women is that it, in turn, liberates men and frees them of the destructive need to dominate and control women the same way their forefathers did.

It will take time, but in the next ten years we will begin to witness young South African men and women enjoying relationships that are far less destructive, violent and toxic. Men will begin to understand that having a relationship with a friend and an equal is much more fun and in fact, mutually beneficial.

Young women will also understand that equality - financial, social, political - means harmony. It's good for relationships, its good for families, it's good for children and in the end it is good for society as a whole.

So, violent as we may be, I foresee a future, based on the gains made in the past, that is freer and fairer than ever before.

Send your comments to Marianne.

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